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Against the background of the lunar race, in which the United States, China and Europe have already joined, the appearance of a new-old participant in it - Russia - caused a resonance in the expert community. According to experts, the planned launch of the Russian Luna-25 mission next year will mark the restoration of the potential that Russia had in the past before it moves on to more ambitious missions. The former favorite of the space race to the moon intends to resume exploration of the Earth satellite after almost 50 years.
We are currently witnessing the race to the moon, in which many countries are taking part. NASA is developing the Artemis lunar exploration program, and under this program, people can land on the lunar surface as early as 2024.
China is preparing to send a space sampling mission to the moon this year, in addition to its lander and rover, which are now on the far side of the moon. Other countries such as Japan and India, as well as private space flight firms, also plan to study the moon in the future.
Now her "veteran" has decided to join this space race. In early August, the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos announced that flight sets of scientific equipment for the Luna-25 spacecraft had already been delivered from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences to the Lavochkin Research and Production Association (which is part of Roscosmos).
The launch of this device is scheduled for October 2021. "The space project" Luna-25 "opens a long-term Russian lunar program, which provides for missions to study the Moon from orbit and surface, the collection and return of lunar soil to Earth, as well as, in the future, the construction of a visited lunar base and full-scale development of our satellite", - said in a statement by officials of Roscosmos.
In Soviet times, Russia has already covered the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Although it did not manage to successfully land humans on the lunar surface at the time, it still managed to chalk up a number of significant advances from the late 1950s to the 1970s.
The Soviet Union became the first country to send a spacecraft to the moon, circling the back side of the Earth satellite and soft landing on its surface, sending the orbiter and delivering the first samples taken in the lunar space, as well as the first samples of lunar soil to Earth. In addition, the Soviet Union became the first country to send its lunar rover to the lunar surface to explore the surface of a satellite.
In July 2020, flight samples of Russian scientific instruments were delivered from the Space Research Institute to NPO Lavochkin. The Luna 25 mission and lunar landing apparatus are the result of a partnership between Russia and the European Space Agency.
According to experts, an ambitious Russian program to return to the moon is already underway, but it is fraught with a number of risks, both technical and administrative.
“We've all been waiting for a very long time” for Russia's lunar exploration program to resume, said David Parker, European Space Agency's director of manned and robotic research.
Eight Russian scientific instruments to be installed on the lunar lander are already being assembled at the Space Research Institute.The lander, slated to land at the moon's south pole, is part of a renewed global drive to explore the moon's polar regions, as well as assess the nature of ice deposits and their potential as resources for future missions.
Parker noted that the planned launch of the Luna 25 mission next year will mark the restoration of the potential that Russia had in the past before it moves on to more ambitious missions. Roscosmos and the European Space Agency “get to know each other.
These are very different organizations with different approaches to decision-making. The Russian side is characterized by a strictly hierarchical approach, while the European agency is characterized by tough pragmatism. It's a very positive working relationship."
The European Space Agency is to provide a Pilot-D precision landing camera for the Luna-25 spacecraft.
The exact same camera will be a key element of the high-precision landing system that the European agency will have to provide Russia for the Luna-27 spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in 2024. Luna-27 will deliver the Prospekt cryogenic soil sampling device and a miniature laboratory to the surface of the Earth's satellite, which, together with another Russian device, will search for ice and various chemical elements under the lunar surface.
“It’s very exciting to wait for Russia to return to the moon,” said James Head, an astronautics expert at Brown University. According to him, work on the Luna-25 project is progressing successfully, despite the spread of covid-19, and so far there have been no reports of suspensions.
45 years after Russia's last successful lunar mission, the Russian space program is likely to allow the country to return to Earth very soon, said Brian Harvey, an independent space analyst who closely monitors the program. that setting the launch date was an attempt to force things and ensure that the launch would take place - a kind of psychological self-motivation."
“I'll tell you right off the bat that I want to be ironic about the name Luna 25,” said Jay Gallentine, an independent space historian who has been closely following advances in robotic exploration of the solar system. this name gives the impression that Luna-25 is another spacecraft in a long series of lunar missions, although the previous spacecraft, Luna-24, was launched in 1976.
According to experts, such a long hiatus in the launch of lunar missions is due to the consequences of the disruption in funding, as well as problems regarding quality control and management. According to Harvey, the Russian authorities are now more interested in the effective implementation of the space program than at any time since 1991.
“The partnership with the European Space Agency is a clear effort to spread costs and bring stability,” he added. - The Russians have always fulfilled their part of the treaty. And if they have agreed with Europe about something, it will happen."
The Russians will do whatever they can to launch the Luna 25 into space, Harvey said. “Obstacles can arise if they discover any problems during testing or if there are any problems with the rocket,” he explained. - For the last couple of years, Russia has postponed the launch dates of missions if such problems arose. But that's a good thing, because it means the Russians are doing a lot of quality control."
From Gallentine's point of view, the main problem could be problems with the reliability of the Luna-25 software.“As history shows, after launch, spacecraft developers are engaged in learning to operate the instruments that they themselves have created.
Russians can hardly boast of outstanding achievements in the field of computer technology and software,”he stressed.
The stakes on the Luna 25 project are very high, said Asif Siddiqi, a history professor who specializes in Russian space exploration. “Luna 25 is of great importance. If this project fails, it will provoke a domino effect that will affect many other areas," - he explained. Meanwhile, if it is successful, this mission will set the stage for a new era in implementation of the Russian space program.
The upcoming Luna 25 mission is the first demonstration of the success of the Russian space exploration program in decades. “I think the developers are very nervous right now,” he added.
Siddiqi points to problems of mismanagement and corruption, as well as a persistent lack of funding, citing them as reasons for the long hiatus. “A relic of the Soviet era is that people are still living in dreams of some fabulous global space program. But for this they do not have the resources and the necessary leadership skills, - he explained. - Before Russia was a great space power. But everyone understands that her greatness is in the past."